Ad hominem? Sileo iam meus theca!

20 Jan

Some Latinates are so commonplace I’ve stopped italicising them. Ergo, etcetera – what kind of anal repressive writes that out in full anyway? – and the Facto Sisters, De and Ipso, are cases in point. Others I now find so useful I marvel that I ever clocked up so many spins around the sun before letting them into my life. Topping that list would have to be cui bono? If you have a non Latin version that does the job more succinctly, I’d like to know about it. Likewise another little work-horse, per se, which shaves a full 16.66666667 percent off its nearest rival, ‘as such’.

That’s no small thing to a DTP obsessive like me, when the latter’s extra character might boot it onto the next line to leave the current one with a nightmarish gap after the ‘as’. (Don’t tell me I’m wasting my time tidying up line endings when I get no say on how they’ll look on your Mac, tablet or phone – or even a different browser on my PC. I already know that and still can’t stop myself. If I could, we could take the O, the C and while we’re at it the D from OCD.)

Nor does my appropriation of new Latinates ever cease. The hawk-eyed fellow obsessive may have spotted a maiden outing in a footnote to The two faces of the US Empire, where I wrote:

The main purpose of that “chimera of rule by and for the people” is as cover for the reality of rule by and for the few. One indicator being that, with the cost of running for president now at $2-3 billion, corporate sponsors and wealthy donors are a sine qua non.

Another old favourite is ad-hominem, roughly translatable as “to the man” (as opposed to the issue). On this too I dispense with italics (except where their narrowness begets a neater line ending). But in this case the term’s familiarity doesn’t always make it well understood.

Back in the 2016 US Election – yes, here we go again! – I was debating with an American friend who took the widely held view that Hillary was ‘lesser evil’ to Donald Trump. Followers of my posts know my main reason for dissent is not the Clintons’ well documented venality but what I claim to be Mrs Clinton’s war crimes, and WW3-inviting No Fly Zones plan for Syria. But at this point in our FB discussion I’d dutifully set out the grounds – including but not confined to these – for calling her a crook.

With playful sarcasm my atypically courteous friend offered that:

I do love a good ad-hominem!

Leaving me to point out that personal criticism of an interlocutor (or someone championed by the same) does not – per se – constitute an ad-hominem. To put this in terms dear to scientists, epistemologists and common-or-garden logicians:

A personal element is a necessary but insufficient condition of an ad hominem attack.

To qualify as ad hominem, the attack must also be gratuitous. If, halfway through an argument on my allegations of shortcomings in A Brief History of Time – get me on this topic and there’s no getting me off it! – I’d seen fit to call its author a “spaz”, well, then you might protest my use of ad hominem. Not to mention my deplorably non PC attitude.

But Hillary’s record on Libya – and, more pertinent here, on Clinton Foundation moneys – is of high relevance to any discussion of her fitness for office. (Or to be precise, it ought to be.) Ergo, my invoking of it was not gratuitous and, ipso facto, not ad hominem.

Sileo iam meus theca!


11 Replies to “Ad hominem? Sileo iam meus theca!

  1. I wasn’t going to comment when I saw it first (nitpicker, me? No, although I am the veteran of many mathematical proofs which often end with the acronym) but given that this post is about Latin I will.

    In your last “How I joined a cult” you opened with:

    The eighties BBC 1 series QED – that which is to be proved –

    QED stands for “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” – that which WAS to be proved.

    • Can’t respond, Tony, on account of being dead. I picked up first on your comment below. Having disregarded the space between per and se, and that between as and such, I arrived at a mortifyingly erroneous – literally so in this case – 16.6666667 percent when anyone with an ounce of common could see that the true difference is a mere 14.2857142857 percent with the last 6 digits recurring.

      I promptly committed hara kiri but couldn’t even do that – see “ritual disembowelent” – proper.

      • Hang on a minute. Did either of us factor in the lesser width of the italicised per se – reducing the difference of 2.38095 percent (rounded after the 5th decimal point) to an error of less suicide inducing magnitude?

        Disembowelment procedure now in reverse. Expect more steel city scribbles!

  2. Sorry Phil, another quibble. “Per se” is 6 characters, “As such” is 7 so it knocks off 1/7 which =14.2857142857..%. with the last 6 digits recurring

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